Lesson 5: Wealth

Royal Wedding 2018My intention is to examine some of the peculiar issues Christianity faces in our present democratic society. I planned to start with the complicated role industrial capitalism plays and was re-reading an email from Lupe Andrade in preparation. Before starting to write, I picked up Kerry Walters’ daily commentary written for the Holy Spirit Parish of the American National Catholic Church. It so marvelously and directly answered Lupe’s question that I decided to utilize these two wordsmiths for our lesson. They illustrate that most, if not all, of our modern day issues have challenged humanity in some form or other throughout history.

Lupe wrote:

One particular issue I find myself growing angry about is the substitution of money for God. Or rather, the elevation of wealth to a godlike status: if you have money you can be beautiful; if you have money you will have friends, if you have money you will be happy (whatever definition “happy” is given in that context); if you have money you will have respect, admiration and praise. If you have money, you can be unfaithful, gross, offensive and untruthful and still people will admire you and follow you. Money, in this new proto-religious movement is the goal and end of our endeavors. You can be intelligent, cultured, principled and kind and still be worthless because your worth is weighed in dollars. Do write about this in the context of Christian teachings. Love, Lupe

Kerry wrote:

When Jesus tells his disciples that it’s harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to gain the kingdom of God, they are amazed – literally, “struck wholly out of their senses” (ἐκπλήσσω / ekpléssó). “Who then can be saved?” they ask one another.

Why are they so gobsmacked? Because in the ancient Jewish world, prosperity was reckoned a sign of God’s approval. Remember poor Job, who lost all his wealth? The friends who came to “comfort” him wound up chiding him instead, convinced as they were that his loss of property was because he’d somehow displeased God. Wealth meant God’s favor; poverty meant God’s anger, or at least indifference.

Clearly, Jesus has no patience with this way of thinking. In the passage just before this one (which we examined last week), Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are child-like in innocence, trust, and open-heartedness. Ownership of property and money has a way of fostering quite different attitudes. At the very least, it can encourage anxiety about loss and accumulation. Think of that wonderful passage in the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 6:25-34 – where Jesus urges us not to fall into this trap.

That’s why the so-called gospel of prosperity preached by folks like Joel Osteen is so contrary to the teachings of the Lord. But all of us, not just Osteen’s followers, are susceptible to the temptation of confusing our own material comfort with God’s approval and the material discomfort of others with God’s disapproval. Being well-off is not in itself a virtue, nor poverty in itself a sin. If we presume otherwise, we invoking a horribly wrong standard to measure our own and others’ relationship with God.

Next week, I shall attempt to examine the ways that the Bible offers to understand the unique way modern industrial capitalism presents a challenge to Christian life.

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1 Enlightened Reply

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  1. John Myers says:

    This is a really ‘loaded’ topic! First, I find myself asking why our society is so preoccupied with wealth. One answer could be that our society is largely self-absorbed, self righteous, and full of envy. If that seems harsh, ask yourself why we care if someone has great wealth? What is that to me and my relationship with God?

    In our current climate in Christianity, we find the hot topic among the charlatans who would dupe the ignorant to be the ‘Prosperity Gospel’……yes, God wants you to have a Mercedes Benz and a mansion! The most recent story involves a televangelist who is pleading for his 4th Jet – give so I can get the biggest Jet and take the Word to the world with only one fuel stop. The inference is God rewards His followers with things that make our life here comfortable. Only, our walk here is not meant to be a comfortable one – the truth is it is hard – we must serve others, humble ourselves, love those who threaten us and would ruin us, and even be prepared to sacrifice our lives for our faith. Trouble is – this doesn’t sell. Why? See paragraph one.

    As pointed out in the lesson, this is nothing new. Being self absorbed, self-righteous, and full of envy has been around as long as we have been around. Christianity changes that – while we still can’t wipe envy and coveting from our lives, we embrace that we are in bondage to sin and the only path to redemption is through the cross – which means we think different, speak different and act different.

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